31 December 2014

Editorial: How the Cultural Revolution Haunts China's Leaders

By Kerry Brown

Growing up during the Cultural Revolution had a lasting impact on Xi Jinping and his generation of elites.

The mainstream view, at least amongst the China-watching community in recent years, was that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s generation would be the last to have a clear memory of the Cultural Revolution decade that began in 1966. Presumably, younger leaders belong more to the post-1978 reform era. Cheng Li in his 2001 book, China’s Leader’s: The New Generation, even went so far as to call the Hu-Wen generation the “unlucky” ones — their education disrupted, their careers put on hold or sometimes radically redirected because of the closure of universities at the end of the 1960s and the internecine battles within the Communist Party during this era. Those coming after them at least lived in a world of more normality.
A biography of Xi Jinping issued by Mirror Books in 2013, however, makes at least one thing clear. The “Decade of Turbulence” from 1966-1976 lay just as heavily, if not more so, on Xi, Li Keqiang, and Wang Qishan and their fellow fifth generation leaders as it did on previous ones. They might have been children when it started, but over the course of the years up to 1976 their most formative experiences, and the things that have most sharply shaped their world view till now, were from this unique period of modern Chinese history when Mao became an object of quasi-worship, society was convulsed by factionalism and violent battles, and every dimension of life was politicized. It is impossible to understand these leaders and their behavior today without taking this into account. 

Read the full story at The Diplomat